Parliament must have a say

The recent judgement delivered by the Supreme Court is unlikely to have taken Prime Minister Theresa May and her followers by surprise. Ruling by a majority of eight to three, the Court followed the arguments put forward by pro-EU campaigners and held it to be appropriate that the government seek parliamentary approval before submitting official notification to Brussels of its intention to start the process to leave the European Union. UK domestic law would change as a result of the UK ceasing to be party to the EU treaties and so must be authorised by parliament, the justices held. On the other hand, the Prime Minister is likely to be relieved that the Supreme Court did not rule that devolved parliaments and assemblies should have their say in the process.

The ruling was widely anticipated in government circles and government lawyers had already prepared a skeleton Brexit bill. Nevertheless, the coming weeks should be anything but easy for Theresa May. The opposition is likely to attempt to use the legislative process to brings its own influence to bear on the bill and to force corresponding amendments. The Labour Party has already announced that it will seek to ensure access to the EU single market remain as full and free as possible. The Liberal Democrats make their approval dependent on whether a second referendum is held on the outcome of the negotiations between Brussels and London. MPs could also demand that the government report back to parliament at regular intervals.

Theresa May’s time schedule, which foresees official notification by the end of March, now looks ambitious at least. Theoretically, a bill can pass within a day, though is the exception. Both Houses of Parliament must approve the final draft. Whilst the Conservative Party holds a majority in the House of Commons, this is not the case in the Lords where, according to media reports, there are numerous critics of Brexit. Against this backdrop, it cannot be excluded that pro-EU politicians play for time in order to force the government into making concessions. Compared to Theresa May, they are likely to have much less reason to wish to move things forward quickly.

The pound responded calmly to the Court decision. There is likely to be upside potential for Sterling over the coming weeks if pro-EU campaigners were to succeed in forcing concessions from government which would explicitly stand in the way of a hard break with the European Union and make a ’soft Brexit‘ more likely. It must not be forgotten though that these developments affect only one side of the negotiations. The EU will certainly want to have its say over the next two years as well.

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